My Career as a Fashion Boutique Retail Store Owner with Helen Aikenhead

An Interview with a Fashion Boutique Retail Store Owner

Helen Aikenhead,
Owner/CEO,
Three Wild Women Inc.

Helen has always had an eye for fashion. From sewing her own clothes to studying fashion design to opening her first retail store with a partner. Their business grew to three stores (including one in a different province!) but eventually, Helen decided to take full ownership and downsize to one fashion boutique. Now she is the proud retail store owner of Three Wild Women.

In this interview, we’ve worked with Helen to capture what her job is like and how she got to where she is today. If you are considering owning a retail store or want to work in fashion, this is a great resource to get an inside look at how one person is living that life.

The Essentials

What is your job description?

My job is to operate a women’s fashion boutique geared to women from mid-30s to 80s.

What are your main tasks?

  • Buying collections
  • Installing all fixtures
  • Hiring and training staff
  • Interacting with customers and making sales
  • Doing web design and social media
  • Planning events
  • Networking and promotion for the store

My life as a boutique owner with Helen Aikenhead

What is your salary?

$60,000 CAD per year.

What education is required as a retail store owner and what is your education?

You must have a high school education. Personally, I have 1.5 years of university as well.

What experience/knowledge are needed to be a retail store owner?

  • Computer knowledge
  • Retail experience
  • Accounting knowledge
  • Understanding of the day-to-day upkeep of the premises

What skills are useful as a store owner?

You need to be able to interact with your customers in a knowledgeable and friendly manner. You should also expect to do a lot of do-it-yourself fixes to the premises. It is also helpful to have a knowledge of computers, banking, and merchant services.

There are a lot of tools that help keep a retail business running: Computers, Cameras, Security systems, Sewing machine, Steamer and iron, Tagging guns, and Label makers among others.

Day in the Life of a Retail Store Owner

What is it like to be a Retail Store Owner?

What is your workplace like?

We have a very friendly and comfortable store. It is quite spacious and we create some lovely displays.

What are your work hours like?

I typically work Monday to Saturday 10-6 and again on Sunday 11-5.

What is the workload like?

I work over 40 hours a week. These hours are split between my home office and the store office.

Describe a typical workday.

I arrive at 9:45 AM. My first few tasks are the check all the correspondence from the previous day (special orders/new shipments), communicate with staff to set the day’s goal, and manage the store finances. Then it is time for some chores like receiving new inventory, breaking down the boxes, and putting out any garbage. Basically, I jump in wherever I am needed throughout the day once those chores are finished.

How is your job different from other store owners or staff?

As the owner, I spend time in the morning and evening at my home office updating the website and social media pages, paying invoices, placing orders, working on our e-commerce site, planning in-store fashion shows and off-site fashion shows, meeting with my marketing person, and sending out our monthly newsletter.

I also get to meet with suppliers to book the new collections at their various showrooms (Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, U.S. shows, and in-store). I have two buying seasons, one in January/February and the other in September/October. The biggest challenge when it comes to buying inventory is trying to figure out what will sell and stay in my budget for that season.

Retail careers exist - Day in the Life of a Retail Store Owner

Career Story

What is your story?

I met a friend who wanted to open a fun boutique for women so we partnered and opened in 2005 on Bank Street South in Ottawa. A year later, we opened a second store in Banff, Alberta. And we opened our current Westboro (Ottawa) location in 2008! I bought out my partner and closed the first two stores to focus on the Westboro location.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I always loved to sew my own clothes and studied fashion design at university.

What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?

At one point, running all three stores was a huge challenge. Especially since one of the stores was in another province!

A Day in the Life of a Retail Store Owner

The Big Questions

What is next for you?

In the Fall of 2017, we launched our e-commerce store. That is my next big endeavour!

As I am now 64, I hope to keep at it until I am 70. At that time, I will probably sell or have my team run the store.

What is your passion?

My grandkids and movies!

What is your favourite task as a retail store owner?

I love to receive the new merchandise. When it arrives, it is like Christmas!

What do you love most about your career?

I love working with my team. They are creative, fun, and loyal. I also love how happy we make our customers.

What would you change about your career? Nothing.

Career Advice for Future Retail Store Owners

What are useful traits for people considering your career?

  • Definitely have a love of fashion.
  • Be a leader who can motivate and be fair but firm with your team.
  • Have an eye for the store design.
  • Be open to criticism and know how to problem solve with unhappy clients.
  • Be firm with buyers so you can negotiate fair terms for payment of products.
  • And, obviously, have a good eye for fashion.

The joys of owning your own fashion boutique

Advice for someone interested in being a retail store owner?

Be sure to do a business plan. It takes time but is well worth the effort, especially if you are looking for financing.

Be sure your location is viable and do market research about the area.

Don’t plan on taking a salary for several years. Your business will need the capital. You can take a small draw.

Provide your top career tip.

If you have a dream, go for it. Join a group of like-minded members and find a mentor who can guide you on your journey.

Provide your top job hunting tip.

Be positive and happy yet serious about the position you are applying for. Sell yourself to the owner and let them know what you can bring to the table as long as you are being sincere about it.


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